Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 10 weather events for the U.S. for 2011

Hi It's Rebecca again, well today is the end of 2011. I wanted to post this the other day. However, time got away from me.  What a destructive year! Several big events don't even make it to the top 10 and many of these could be #1 in a quieter year. Back in 2010 we thought that was an extreme year. That is until this year. 2011  broke all the records that were broken in 2010.  2011 will be remembered as the year the tornado reined supreme.  Anyway here are my picks for  the top 10 weather events for the U.S. for 2011

A few of the things that almost made this list.

The Indiana State Fair tragedy  

On August 13th, a severe thunderstorm hit the Indiana State Fair creating extremely strong wind gusts, ultimately collapsing a stage where the band Sugarland was about to play. The result, 7 dead people and questions whether or not the public heeded warnings issued by State Fair personnel about the approaching storms

The Southwest High wind event

 Earlier this month a very impressive western high wind event causes significant damage in large areas, such as in Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California

The Iowa-Illinois-Michigan-Ohio derecho

This was an impressive long-lived derecho. Back in July the derecho produced widespread wind damage across parts of the Midwest. Winds gusted as high as 85 mph in some locations. Numerous trees and power lines were downed. Some roofs were damaged or completely taken off buildings. Grain bins were crushed.

10) The Southern Plains drought

 The Southern Plains knows about heat. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to top out above 100 degrees in the summertime. In 2011 though, it was nearly an everyday occurrence. Day-after-day, temperatures across the region surged above 100 degrees. In fact, Dallas/Fort-Worth endured 70 days with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, beating the record of 69 days set in 1980. Wichita Falls and San Angelo, Texas both tallied over 100 days of triple-digit heat, by far a record for any year! The National Climatic Data Center reported that the 2011 United States Summer was actually the hottest summer since the Dust Bowl era Summer of 1936. 2011 marked the hottest summers on record for Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana. As of this writing, some locations in Texas were nearly 2 feet below average yearly precipitation levels. The drought has claimed 600,000 Cattle. Estimates from the Texas Forest Service show that the yearlong drought may have claimed as many as a half-billion trees. The state has a tree population of about 4.9 billion. Researchers have determined that 100 million to 500 million trees, or from 2 to 10 percent of all trees, have been lost.  To make bad news worse, some climate experts feel the drought could be worse next year.

9) The Groundhog Day Blizzard.

The Groundhog Day Storm impacted nearly 100 million people as it stretched from Northeast Mexico to Canada from January 31 – February 2. Blizzard conditions affected many large cities along the storm's path, including Kansas City, St. Louis, Des Moines, Milwaukee, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Cleveland, perhaps the most memorable portion of this blizzard was its overall effect on the Chicago area where 1-2 feet of snow fell combined with winds over 60 mph. The conditions stranded hundreds on Lake Shore Drive.  21.2 inches of snow fell at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, making it the 3rd largest snowfall event on record in Chicago history. An ice storm ahead of the blizzard conditions affected much of the Midwest and into New England. Areas in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont reported several inches of snow and one half to one inch of ice accumulations resulting in numerous power outages, some of which lasted several days after the storm. 36 people perished in this storm and estimates of total damage are at 3.9 billion dollars.

8)  The April and May Record flooding on the Mississippi River.

The Mississippi River floods in April and May 2011 were among the largest and most damaging recorded along the U.S. waterway in the past century, comparable in extent to the major floods of 1927 and 1993. Excessive rainfall occurred from April 23 to May 7, 2011 across northern Arkansas, southern Missouri, and portions of the Ohio River Valley. The fourteen day rainfall totaled a staggering  800% above normal across parts of the Ohio, White and mid-Mississippi River valleys, with rain amounts up to 20 inches at some locations. The lower Mississippi River was overwhelmed when that additional water combined with the springtime snowmelt, the river and many of its tributaries began to swell to record levels by the beginning of May. Areas along the Mississippi itself experiencing flooding include Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This deluge resulted in record flooding on the lower Mississippi River. Arkansas City and Greenville reached flood stage on April 28, 2011 and the lower Mississippi River remained in flood at some point through late June with Natchez remaining in flood until June 22. Fourteen people were killed in Arkansas and tens of thousands  were displaced from their homes along the banks of the Mississippi. 

7) The Springfield Tornado

 Just over a week after Joplin another American city was under attack from a tornado.   Though New England is not a tornado-prone region they still do occur. Springfield, Massachusetts watched in shock as a tornado ripped through the city’s center during the evening rush hour. Television stations covered the storm live as it passed over the Connecticut River and Interstate 91 into downtown Springfield. Although not as strong as the ones in the south  it was still amazing to see a tornado of this size moving through such a densely populated area of the country. The tornado killed 4 people and injured hundreds in Springfield. Two of the four fatalities occurred in West Springfield, and there was one each in Springfield and Brimfield. The Springfield tornado was a part of the 2011 New England Tornado Outbreak.  This tornado outbreak spawned 6 tornadoes across New England. The Tornado in Springfield has been dubbed  The Greater Springfield Tornado. The Tornado was rated an  EF3 with winds that reached 160 mph at its peak. The Greater Springfield Tornado caused  over 100 million dollars in damage.  

6) Tropical Storm Lee

From September 5th to the 9th remnants of Tropical Storm Lee drench the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The same areas that had be pounded by Irene. This was especially true of  the Susquehanna River basin which sustained catastrophic flooding. Up to nine inches of rain fell in parts of Pennsylvania, and a similar amount fell around Binghamton New York. Rivers and streams passed or approached flood stage from Maryland to Massachusetts. The rain made this the worst flooding event since Hurricane Agnes impacted the region in 1972. Over 100,000 people were forced to evacuate from the Susquehanna River's worst flooding in nearly 40 years.  At least 11 deaths have been blamed on Lee: four in central Pennsylvania, two in northern Virginia and one in Maryland, along with four others killed when it came ashore on the Gulf Coast. Overall, this event is estimated to have caused 1 billion dollars worth of damage.

5) The Pre Halloween Nor'easter

It formed early on October 29 along a cold front to the southeast of the Carolinas. As it moved northeastward,  the storm produced record-breaking snowfall totals in dozens of cities. The highest snowfall was in Peru, Massachusetts with 32.0 in. New York City received its earliest inch of snow since the Civil War. (The Civil War was in a long cold period known as the Little Ice Age). In Massachusetts, the nor'easter brought wind gusts peaking at 69 mph. What this storm will be remembered for is the widespread and long-lived power outages across Eastern New York State and Southern New England. Snow fell on trees that were often still in leaf, adding extra weight. Trees and branches that collapsed under it caused considerable damage, particularly to power lines.  An estimated 3.3 million people experienced power outages from this event, some the outages  lasted for 10-12 days.  The storm affected 60 million people and caused at least 39 deaths.

4)  Southern States Tornado Outbreak

From April 14 to 16, One of the worst recorded U.S. tornado outbreaks occurred across the Southern United States. This outbreak resulted in 178 confirmed tornadoes across 16 states. A total of 38 people were killed from tornadoes and an additional five people were killed as a result of straight line winds associated with the storm system. This was the largest number of fatalities in an outbreak in the United States since the 2008 Super Tuesday tornado outbreak (at the time).  The hardest hit states included North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Virginia. In Northern New York State, there were very high winds, sometimes gusting upwards of 70 miles per hour associated with the massive storms that were active on April 16.   Overall, 2.5 billion dollars of damage occurred from this event.

3)  Hurricane Irene 

 August 22-29: Hurricane Irene tracked just north of Hispaniola as an intensifying cyclone, pelting the coast with heavy rain and strong winds and killing seven people. After crossing the Turks and Caicos Islands, the hurricane quickly strengthened into a Category 3 major hurricane while passing through The Bahamas, leaving behind a trail of extensive structural damage in its wake. Curving toward the north, Irene skirted past Florida with its outer bands producing tropical-storm-force winds. It made landfall over Eastern North Carolina's Outer Banks on the morning of August 27 as a Category 1 hurricane, the first land falling hurricane on the U.S mainland since Hurricane Ike. She then moved along southeastern Virginia, affecting the Hampton Roads region. After briefly reemerging over water Irene made a second U.S. landfall near Little Egg Inlet in New Jersey early in the morning on August 28th. Irene is the first hurricane to make landfall in the state since 1903. Irene reemerged over water soon thereafter  Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm. Irene then made its third U.S. landfall in the Coney Island area of Brooklyn, New York, at approximately 9:00 am on August 28. The flooding in Vermont, eastern New York and New Jersey was some of the worse in centuries. One thing that made Irene unique. was her massive size. Tropical storm force winds extended out 255 miles from the eye making Irene a massive 510 miles in diameter.  Through the course of her lifetime Irene impacted over 75  million people from Puerto Rico to Florida and up to Maine. At least 56 deaths are blamed on the storm. In the U.S. alone Irene caused an estimated 10.1 billion dollars in damage. 

2) The Joplin Tornado
Not even a month had passed after the Tuscaloosa tornado;  when we heard of another city hit by a monster. On May 22, a lazy Sunday evening turned into hell on earth for the residents of Joplin Missouri. This tornado moved through the southern part of the city as an EF5 .  This means it had winds of at least 200 mph or greater. When all was said and done, 25% of the city was obliterated, with 75% seeing moderate to severe damage. The estimated damage of this tornado is estimated to be at $2.8 billion. The tornado injured 900 people.  However, the real tragedy was in the 162 lives taken in the blink of an eye. Which makes it the 7th deadliest tornado in U.S. history and the deadliest tornado in almost 65 years.. The Joplin tornado was part of a May 21-26 tornado outbreak. There were 180 confirmed tornados resulting in 185 deaths, stretching from central Texas to the Upper Midwest.

01) The Super Dixie Tornado Outbreak

The largest tornado outbreak ever recorded in United States history occurred from April 25-28. It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in most of our lifetimes .  It produced 359 tornadoes , resulting in 346 deaths, and causing an estimated 11 billion dollars in damage.. During the  3 day outbreak, tornadoes caused widespread catastrophic damage from Texas to New York State. On April 27 a total of 207 tornadoes tore across several states, 53 occurred in Alabama alone. The 27th of April went down as breaking the record for the number of tornadoes in a 24 hour period; a record set during the super outbreak of 1974. The most noteworthy tornado of the outbreak was the April 27 Tuscaloosa Tornado. The EF-4 tornado was a wedge tornado with peak winds of 190 mph; the tornado had a path 80.7 miles long; At it's widest point it reached one and a half miles wide. The Tuscaloosa Tornado caused incredible damage when it move through the city of Tuscaloosa where it took 43 lives. The total death count with this tornado was 64 and it injured more than 1500. It forever put to rest the mistaken belief that tornadoes don't strike cities.

With 2012 on the way, all we can do is hold our breath and hope it's not as bad as 2011. I'm almost done with a top ten list that's local to the northeast.....I hope to have it done by Monday. I hope you enjoyed reading this.........Let me know if you think others should have been added.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Lake Effect Snow

Hi it's Rebecca again, I've been mentioning lake effect snow lately; so I thought I would post an blog entry about it. I'm sure some of you living outside of the snowbells are curious about what it is. This blog entry will give you a broad overview of what lake effect snow is, how it forms, and where it can occur. As well as the difference between a lake effect snow storm and a synoptic scale snow storm.

Before I get into lake effect snow amounts I want to give you a broad overview of the Tug Hill Plateau. Nestled in the ‘North Country between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks, Tug Hill is a region of unbroken northern hardwood forests and pristine wetlands drained by a vast network of coldwater streams. The Tug Hill region is located in four Upstate New York counties: Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, and Oswego. The top of the plateau is relatively flat compared to other areas in New York State.  The most outstanding characteristic of the Tug Hill region is its undeveloped state. There are some small, scattered hamlets and villages along the outer edges of the region, but the core area is heavily forested and relatively unpopulated. In spite of the region being sparsely populated (for some strange reason), a few  places like Boonville, Barnes Corners, Redfield, and Montague occasionally make the news during the winter. Many old timers up here think Tug Hill got its name sometime  around the 18th and 19th centuries. in this time span the term "tugging" was use to describe  areas that were reached by horses or oxen pulling a wagon up a long road to get to a high area.  H.E. Krueger in an article "The Lesser Wilderness - Tug Hill" he claims the Tug Hill was named by two early settlers, Isaac Perry and a Mr. Buell when traveling up the hill west of Turin The Tug Hill covers an area of 2,100 square miles with an elevation from about 350 feet on the west to over 2,000 feet in the east. The area because of its location on the east-end of Lake Ontario, along with the combination of winter winds blowing over almost 200 miles of Lake Ontario waters, and the 2,000-foot rise of Tug Hill creates these heavy lake snows. These storms are responsible for the majority of the over 200 inches of snow the Tug receives annually, turning the region into a winter wonderland. The heavy snowfall is one of Tug Hill’s greatest recreational assets.

            Several towns in the region hold impressive records. An out of the way place called Hooker (near Barnes Corners) recorded 466.9” of snow in the winter of 1976-77. The monthly record for snow accumulation belongs to Bennet Bridges and is 192” in January 1978. The official record for a one day snowfall in NY State belongs to Montague NY. The hamlet had 77” of snow in 24 hours on the 11th/12th of January 1997. Montague also holds the single storm record for snowfall in NY with 95” from January 10th-14th in 1997.  Not to be outdone, Redfield received 141 inches during the 12 day lake effect event of February, 2007. Well that tells you a little bit about this fascinating on to lake effect snow.

Just what is Lake Effect Snow?

Lake effect snow, also called snow squalls, results from cold, arctic air traveling over a relatively warm body of water. The cold, dry air picks up the water moisture and deposits it, in the form of snow, over land areas in- lee of the warmer water. In the case of the Northeast lake effect snows can occur around Lakes Ontario and Erie and to a lesser extent around Lake Champlain and the Sound off of Long Island.  After the passage of a cold front the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes often create convective instability in an otherwise stable, arctic continental airmass. Therefore, while areas in eastern New York and the rest of New England are clearing up after a recent cold front or storms passage, The Great Lakes communities hold their breath waiting for the lake effect snow machine to awaken. Lake-enhanced snow is different from lake-effect as it is part of an already present system.
How does Lake Effect Snow form?
The first two ingredients
These come under the heading of temperature contrast. The temperature between the lake surface and overlying air promotes "convective instability" that provides the basic energy source for lake effect snow. Ideally, the ambient air temperature at 850mb should be at least 13°C cooler than the surface water temp. Heat and moisture from the warm lakes rises into the "modified" arctic air where it then cools and condenses into snow clouds.   The intensity of the lake effect snowfall also depends upon how far the wind moved over the  lake surface (the fetch) . The longer the fetch, the more moisture the air can obtain and more snow it can form. One reason that mid-lake bands are so impressive is that the fetch is maximized. In the case of Lake Ontario the band can be 150 miles or longer. Major storms rarely develop unless the fetch is at least 50 miles. If the lake has a lot of ice cover; the band intensity is greatly reduced. This is because the ice cuts down on evaporation. Therefore the fetch can't pick up much moisture. This is the reason Lake Erie normally only has lake effect snow during the early winter. Lake Erie is the most likely of the Great Lakes to freeze because it is by far the shallowest. whereas, Lake Ontario is the least likely due to its vast depth and southern location compared to the upper Great lakes.  
The wind speed determines how far inland and the horizontal spreading of lake-effect snow. With relatively light winds, the snow maximum will be closer to the shore. Strong winds tend to blow the snow further inland and produce a snow maximum which is more than 10 miles inland. The heaviest snows rarely occur right at shoreline. Wind speed needs to be light enough across the lake in-order for moisture convergence to occur. The moisture content of the air depends on the previous dewpoint of the air moving over the lake and the moisture acquired through evaporation over the lake. If winds are too strong ( over 50 miles per hour), enough moisture may not be able to evaporate to produce heavy lake effect snow. The best combination is cold arctic air moving between 10 and 40 miles per hour.
The third ingredient
Forecasting lake effect snow can be a huge challenge. Therefore knowing the wind direction is vidal. Wind direction is measured in degrees, as on a compass where 360 degrees is north, 90 degrees is east, 180 degrees is south, and 270 degrees is west. Since Lake Ontario is elongated west-east, and since the Tug Hill is on the eastern end of the lake. Winds with a 270 flow will often bring in a single extremely intense snow band that dumps huge amount of snow. Sometimes the Capital District will be affected by snow off of Ontario this usually occurs when winds 30 to 40 mph set up on a 280-290 flow.
The forth ingredient       This is the topography around the lake.  Elevation plays a major role in lake effect snow production  ( this is called orographic lift ).  This occurs when the wind comes over the flat, nearly frictionless (somewhat ice covered) Great Lakes and then plows into the shore and over the land. This creates friction as well as lift when it hits the land and elevation change. When the air is lifted, you get clouds and eventually lake effect snow showers. For the Great Lakes this would include locations such as the Keewenaw Peninsula of Michigan, the Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario, the Tug Hill and Allegheny Plateaus of upstate New York; It is estimated that annual snowfall increases by 65 cm (25 1/2 inches) per 100-meter  (slightly more than 328 feet) in elevation gain leeward of the Great Lakes.

 There are other factors as well. Some of these are wind shear, thermal convergence, and  frictional convergence. I will not go into these. However, if you want to know about them. Drop me  an Email and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Where can it Occur?

The lake effect I've been discussing has been on the Great Lakes. However,  these types of snowstorms can occur anywhere cold air moves over a fairly large area of relatively warmer water during the winter.
Below are a few maps that show some of these places.

                                                                   Pictures courtesy of NWS Buffalo

The  difference between a synoptic scale snow storm and a lake effect storm
The main difference between a lake effect snow and a synoptic scale snow storm, is that lake effect snow storms are not low pressure system storms. Instead it is cold, dry air  moving over the  Lakes that brings the snow. Another major difference is a winter storm may last a few hours to a day or so with on and off snow, Where-as a lake effect snow storm will often produce snow continuously for 48 hours or longer in a particular area. Lake effect snows can precipitate as much as 76 inches  of light-density snow in 24 hours with snowfall rates as high as 6 to 8 inches per hour. In fact in 2007 a lake snow band lasted over 10 days; when it was over anywhere from 100 to 141 inches had fallen. The good news was that the band meandered around a lot during that time. Imagine what the snow amounts would have been if the band had more or less stayed in one place.

                        Here are a few pictures of the Tug Hill. To give you an idea what it looks like.

The Winteridge near Lowville run by the Northrup family

There is always a wind on the Tug. So wind skiing can be a lot of fun

One of the windmills outside of Lowville.

A good way to get around in winter

Well that's about it. I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Again I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.